Friday, October 31, 2008

Comment I Posted To Matthew Yglesias

Matthew Yglesias on the changing attitude toward "redistribution of wealth."

A theory about the shift in attitudes toward “redistribution of wealth.”

Mikhail Bakhtin, in his book “Rabelais and his World” referred to obscenity’s role in everyday discussion by saying that the pejoratives became dissociated from their actual meaning, and became a whole phrase on its own; basically, it became an expression rather than an actual phrase, rooted in the meanings of the word.

I think that’s what happens to talking points: a phrase in the language becomes something ideological, and therefore the words get uprooted from their meaning. Between April and October, McCain has taken the phrase “redistributing the wealth” and turned it into a euphemism for socialism–itself, in the US, a euphemism for dictatorial oppression and big government. So the question is heard by the listener, and it means something completely different now than it did five months ago, if you subscribe to McCain’s euphemism.

I don’t think attitudes have changed. I think McCain has shifted how we use language.

(Another example of this: McCain is firmly against the ideologically charged “regulation” but in favor of the ideologically neutral “oversight.”)